[#MeToo Case] Priya Ramani Acquitted In Criminal Defamation Case Filed by MJ Akbar: Delhi Court

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When the #MeToo movement started, a lot of women spoke up about the times they were subject to sexual abuse. However, the victim shaming society that we are, instead of supporting them shamed them for it. Along with the sexual harassment cases, defamation cases were also filed by the people accused of harassing the survivors and campaigners of the movement.

Facts

As a part of the #MeToo movement, Priya Ramani a journalist disclosed MJ Akbar to be the sexual harasser she had mentioned in one of her articles for Vogue. Following Ramani’s statement, numerous women came out and spoke out against the harassment they faced at the hands of Akbar, the then Minister of State for External Affairs. Akbar initiated criminal defamation proceedings against Ramani.

Arguments

The main contentions of Akbar were that her tweet damaged his ‘stellar reputation.’ Akbar who was represented by Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra also claimed that he was subject to a lot of hate online and the tweet had initiated a social media trial of sorts against him and that was against the working of a society. Ramani stood her ground by claiming her statements were for the public good and stood for the truth. Her counsel Senior Advocate Rebecca John claimed that someone who was accused of sexual misconduct did not possess a stellar reputation in the first place.

Court Decision

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The single-judge bench of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey observed that

“Woman has the right to put her grievance at a platform of her choice even after decades. A woman cannot be punished for raising voice against sex abuse. Right to reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right to dignity.”

While highlighting the importance of legislations and guidelines like the Vishaka guidelines (especially set down for the protection of women from sexual harassment at workplaces) and the POSH Act, the court noted that “The society must understand the impact of sexual abuse and harassment on its victims” The Court also discussed the constitutional principles and highlighted the importance of fundamental rights when stating that “Article 21 and the right to equality is guaranteed under the Constitution. She has full right to put up her case in any platform of her choice.”

The Court when acquitting Priya Ramani of the criminal defamation case and the charges that were levelled against her held that

“Time has come for our society to understand that sometimes a victim may for years not speak up due to the mental trauma. The woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”


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